Ottawa

OC Transpo passengers, staff will soon need to wear masks

In a little more than two weeks, anyone entering an OC Transpo bus, train, station or a Para Transpo minibus or accessible taxi will be required to wear a mask, as the city adjusts to the realities of the COVID-19 era.

New rules come into effect June 15

Hurdman station during physical distancing for the COVID-19 pandemic on March 31, 2020. Starting June 15, anyone riding OC Transpo will be required to wear a face mask. (Jonathan Dupaul/CBC)

In a little more than two weeks, anyone entering an OC Transpo bus, train or station or a Para Transpo minibus or accessible taxi will be required to wear a mask, as the city adjusts to the realities of the COVID-19 era.

Starting June 15, passengers and staff alike will be required to wear non-medical masks, or some other sort of material that covers their face, to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The rules are being put in place as ridership slowly begins to increase, and will remain until the medical officer of health no longer believes widespread mask use is necessary, according to a report released Thursday.

The plan for returning to 95 per cent of normal summer service by June 28  will "coincide with the city's planning horizon for the end of the emergency measures on July 1," according the report.

'Enforcement is a concern'

OC Transpo staff warn that its progression to full service is a "rolling wave plan," and that it may be necessary to regress should COVID-19 cases increase too much.

Still, if the summer service goes well, OC Transpo plans to institute full fall service, including school routes, on Aug. 30.

Coun. Allan Hubley, who chairs the transit commission, said that while "enforcement is a concern," the city's immediate preoccupation is not with fining people.

"We hope that we have the co-operation of the users and certainly the employees," Hubley told CBC.  "We're not doing this for any other reason than for their self-protection."

Coun. Allan Hubley, seen here in 2018, says the city has taken a 'bad' financial hit due to the steep decline in OC Transpo's ridership. (CBC)

OC Transpo employees will be provided with masks, and a limited number will be handed out the week of June 15 to riders who've forgotten theirs.

The additional COVID-19 related measures for masks and other supplies come with a monthly cost of $950,000, on top of the one-time cost of $325,000 to install "soft barriers" in buses and sanitizer dispensers in stations. 

That's a drop in the bucket when compared with the millions of lost revenue OC Transpo has experienced in the last few months. At last count, the transit department was forecast to be $85 million in the red by the end of the year, but an update is expected Monday.

Ridership slowly increasing

"It's been bad," said Hubley of the financial hit transit is taking due to the pandemic. "We were tracking well for bringing in new riders and COVID pulled … the rug right out from under us."

At the end of March, transit ridership had plummeted to as low as 15 per cent of usual levels, creating enough room on many transit routes that passengers could distance themselves from each other.

But this month, ridership appears to have inched up to 30 per cent. When it increases to above 40 percent on buses — and above 20 per cent on trains — physical distancing will not be possible, which is why OC Transpo, in conjunction with Ottawa Public Health, is mandating the use of masks.

On June 15, bus passengers will be able to use the front of the bus — and the front door — to give people more room to distance. "Soft barriers" will be installed around the drivers' areas. (Jean-François Poudrier/Radio-Canada)

List of safety measures

Here are the measures OC Transpo says it's taking to "help keep transit as safe as possible for customers and employees":

  • Making it mandatory for customers and staff to wear non-medical masks, beginning June 15.
  • Installing hand sanitizer dispensers at stations.
  • Controlling the flow of buses into busy transfer stations, including Blair, Hurdman and Tunney's Pasture.
  • Increasing space on board buses and trains, by adding additional buses on busy routes, adding two more LRT trains and allowing the front of buses to be used again.
  • Introducing enhanced daily cleaning of buses, trains and stations.
  • Installing barrier shields around drivers on all buses.
  • Putting up signs that remind riders to wear masks and assess their own symptoms.
  • Implementing touch-free fare payment, with more frequent cleaning of ticket machines and PIN pads at stations.

OC Transpo management will present the plan to a special meeting of the transit commission Monday.

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story stated the issue would go to full council for final approval on June 11. In fact, this item won't rise to council because it falls within OC Transpo's existing budget.
    Jun 01, 2020 2:11 PM ET

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